Posted by: Joey Burgess | Feb 8, 2012

Office Scanning

Every office, and many homes, have a scanner – a way to take a physical object and make a digital representation of it. But what if the object is in 3 dimensions? You would need some sort of 3D scanner.

Fortunately for us, there’s one of those in our office.

With the help of the Systems Concept Center at Boeing, we were able scan the interior volume of our airplane, N320NE. Read on to see how this process works.

Fuselage model scan after smoothing

The 3D scanner we were using is the ZScanner 700. It uses a combination of dots, cameras and lasers to find its position and scan the surface itself.

The first step is to stick retroreflective dots all over the inside surface of the airplane. Lots of dots. They were placed about 4 inches apart. The scanner shines light on the dots, and this allows the two cameras to see them. Using the size, shape and position of the dots it sees, the scanner figures out where it is in relation to them. Once it knows its position, a laser range finder on the bottom measures how far the surface is away from the scanner. When the scanner position and surface distance information is combined, the result is a exact point in space where the airplane is.

Zscanner and the computer with part of the model as we were taking the data

By sweeping the scanner across the surfaces of the airplane, a few points turn into many, and by connecting the dots, surfaces develop, and a picture of the airplane magically forms.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Shiny surfaces throw off the laser range finder, and we have a lot of them. Anywhere reinforcement plys were added and not vacuum bagged, they result in a shiny surface as the resin smooths out before it cures. The smoothness means shininess.

Our quick solution was to simply tape over every shiny surface with blue painters tape. It worked very well, but there was a lot of taping to do. Plus, we had to make sure we did not tape over any dots!

Dot matrix along with the blue tape to cover the shiny surfaces

In the end though, we were rewarded with a beautiful scan of the interior of the airplane. We will combine the data from the scan with our 3D models of the avionics, switches, seats, and other components that make up the interior of the aircraft to make an integrated model that we can use to design and manufacture parts to have an interior with a truly professional-looking finish and make sure that every system that we need to run through that tight area will have room to fit.

Cabin model with model of panel, switches, some avionics, throttle quadrant, etc.


  1. […] As for the systems, a mock-up of the cockpit was built right next to the airplane. (You can see them being displayed above at a Boeing event). It included the instrument panel and the space behind it, where the electronics would be housed: Air pressure sensors for altitude and airspeed, gyroscopes that tell direction and orientation, radios for communication and navigation, a GPS, wires and circuit breakers for the airplane’s lights and starter motor and radios and displays, batteries so that these systems could operate without the engine running… All of these items were chosen, purchased, placed into the mock-up, wired up for power and for talking with other systems, tested for functionality, and documented for use by pilots. Ergonomics experts from Boeing were consulted to ensure that displays and controls were in easy and intuitive locations relative to the pilot. A unique panel surface was designed around the displays and controls, and 3D-printed on site using the rapid prototyping tools at the Concept Center facility such as a 3D scanner. […]

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